PAWNEE COUNTY HISTORY, Internet home for the honored past of Pawnee County, NEBRASKA

The following text is a revision of Ella (Small) Turnbull's 1944 article.

Upper and Lower West Branch

     Two families arrived by covered wagon along a creek later known as West Branch, from which West Branch precinct was named.  The wagons were pulled by teams of oxen.  These two families were the first white people to make a wagon track this far west in Pawnee county.

     One family, Alf Watters, settled where Andrew and Nettie Turnbull later lived.  The first fall and winter they were sick and two children died.  The next spring the family went back east again.

     The other family, Zenas Watters, settled where Ray Dodson later lived, the farm later was owned by Henry Loch.  They, too, were sick and lost one child, but stayed on.  They got possession of this land by what was then known as a "squatter's claim."  It was much the same as a homestead, but was several years before the homestead law was passed.

     The Indians directed this family to the place, where there was abundance of spring water, and near where the Indians often camped.  In later years people learned that West Branch and Johnson Creek, the two largest streams in the precinct, have several ever-flowing springs.

     The Otoe reservation was just over the Pawnee county line, near where Barnston now stands.  The Iowas and Otoes were friendly Indians and did considerable visiting with each other, and their trails, as they always traveled one behind the other, extending from east to west through Pawnee county and West Branch precinct.

     The first houses were built of logs cut from the timber.  These logs were notched with an ax near the ends at the corner of the building, so the logs would lie close together, and then small rocks were used to chink the larger places, and plastered with mud.  The first school house was built of logs.

     Upper and Lower West Branch were one district in the log house known as district No. 20.  To the south of the precinct stands district No. 21, known years ago as the Andy Scott School.  In 1873 the school house was built which still stands, known as district No. 20 or Lower West Branch, while to the west of the precinct is district No. 37 School or Upper West Branch.  Lower West Branch school house was moved to the Pawnee City Historical Society Site in Pawnee City, Nebraska.  For years there was Sunday school, and often church, at district 20 school house.  It also provided a location for voting in general elections.

     The homes of three ministers, Jenne, Turner and Hillis, were in the precinct.  From the latter home came the late Dwight Newell Hillis, a nationally known preacher, and his brother W. A., equally well known as a Sunday school organizer.  A sister was a missionary.

     West Branch has furnished three Pawnee county sheriffs, Captain B. H. Fuller, his son Cloud H. Fuller, and Guy E. Avery.  The precinct also furnished one county superintendent, E. M. Avery.

     There are two cemeteries in the precinct, one in the southeast known as Johnson Creek cemetery, the other near the northern border.

     Many buildings have been built from the rock taken form the precinct quarries.  The court house in the county was built from them, cellar walls and foundations of most of our homes in this area.  When the all weather roads were necessary rock was quarried and crushed then hauled to surface miles of roads.  This work was interrupted during World War II as men and machinery were needed else where.

transcribed by Kathleen Jacobitz for PawneeCountyHistory -- September 2004

© Pawnee County History website, 2004    updated: Tuesday, Sep 7, 2004

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